First published back in April of 1997, ‘Clive Barker’s A-Z Of Horror’ was an A-Z reference guide to the horror genre, compiled by Stephen Jones to accompany the six-part BBC TV series which ran from October 1997 to January 1998.  The TV series covered just twenty-one of the chapters that are found within the book, with two of the specific TV segments differing from those of the accompanying book’s chapters.

The book begins with a seven page introduction by Clive Barker that introduces the principles behind horror and its pivotal place within our cultural and personal lives.  The introduction itself sets the tone and overall exploratory mood off perfectly for the following twenty-six chapters, taking us through the length and breadth of the horror genre.

A for American Psycho - 16 Pages
Principally covering the true crime story of the notorious ghoul Ed Gein, this first chapter briefly takes the reader through Gein’s story and then moves on to outlining a small collection of the films that it influenced – ‘Psycho’ (1960), ‘Deranged’ (1974), ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) and ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991).

B for Beelzebub - 8 Pages
This entire section is pretty much dedicated to William Peter Blatty’s novel ‘The Exorcist’ (1971), detailing its ‘true story’ background and inspiration, as well as its adaptation into the motion picture of the same name (1973), and the mostly controversial reaction it initially received.

C for Chaos – 10 Pages
For this section, the book details the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft.  The chapter barely mentions any specific tales or books, but instead gives a solid oversight into the man himself.  There are brief mentions of the more popular films that were adapted from his some of his stories, such as ‘Re-Animator’ (1985), ‘Bride of Re-Animator’ (1989) and ‘Necronomicon’ (1993).

D for Devil Rides Out – 8 Pages
The chapter focuses on the books and subsequent film adaptations of the British occultist author Dennis Wheatley.  It examines his life, his influences and the varying genres that he explored.  This includes brief insights into films such as ‘The Devil Rides Out’ (1967), ‘The Lost Continent’ (1968) and ‘To The Devil A Daughter’ (1976).

E for Escape - 6 Pages
The work of John Carpenter is next to being examined.  Principally focusing on his cult horror masterpiece ‘Halloween’ (1978), the chapter takes the reader through the filming process, the inspiration, the numerous sequels and its somewhat unprecedented success.

F for Flesh - 10 Pages
This next section is given over to the work of the Swiss artist Hand Rudi Giger (more commonly known as H.R. Giger).  The chapter looks at the man behind the surreal and nightmarish paintings and sculptures, as well as his design work for films such as ‘Alien’ (1979), ‘Poltergeist II: The Other Side’ (1986) and ‘Species’ (1995).  What are perhaps of the most interest here are the brief glimpses of Giger’s home life and what it is to be H.R. Giger himself.

G for Grim Tales – 8 Pages
Fairy tales and in particular, those collected by the Grimm brothers forms the topic of this next section.  Here we hear from the likes of Tim Burton and Ramsey Campbell, as well as looking deeper into the often forgotten gruesomeness that lurks within fairy tales that we find ourselves passing on to our children.

H for Harlequinade - 8 Pages
Clowns.  Are they really all that funny?  Or are they in fact quite the opposite and downright creepy?  This next chapter explores the darker side to these adults in make-up as well as the role clowns have had in modern day horror, from Simon Sprackling’s film ‘Funny Man’ (1994) to the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘IT’ (1990), to the true life crimes of John Wayne Gacy (aka Pogo the Clown).

I for Innocents – 6 Pages
Here we delve into the role that children have played in horror over the years.  The section predominately looks at the film ‘The Bad Seed’ (1956) and the impact the film made on the horror industry.  The chapter is short, with little else offered other than a brief examination of the use of children as the threat in horror, followed on with a slightly more in-depth dissection of ‘The Bad Seed’ (1956).

J for Japan – 6 Pages
For this section Japanese horror is put under the spotlight, in particular Shinya Tsukamoto’s ‘Tetsuo’ (1989) films.  From Tetsuo, we explore and examine the man behind the films, his other work and ultimately his inspiration for the bizarre images of horror, flesh, sex, death and machinery.

K for Killing Joke – 8 Pages
Perhaps one of the most interesting of chapters, here we look into Oscar Méténier’s theatre - The Grand Guignol; and how the performances put on shocked and titillated Parisian audiences for a good sixty-five years.  The history of the legendary theatre is examined, from the pantomimes and morality plays to the more gruesome and bloodthirsty of acts.

L for Lynch Mob – 8 Pages
Hardly lynch mobs!  Rather, this chapter deals more with the black community within the horror genre, such as ‘Horrorcore’ – a slightly obscure offshoot from modern-day rap music.  Much of the chapter is given over to quotes from the members of the Horrorcore rap group ‘Gravediggaz’.  From there the section briefly explores blaxploitation films such as ‘Blacula’ (1972), ‘Blackenstein’ (1972) and ‘Dr Black and Mr Hyde’ (1975), as well as the more recent black anthology film – ‘Tales From The Hood’ (1995).

M for Mistress Of The Night – 8 Pages
Actress Barbara Steele is the sole subject of this next chapter.  Here we are presented with a reasonably brief overview of Steele’s career; from her early comedy movies, to her Italian horror work, and finally her re-emergence to the screen in the 80’s.  ‘Black Sunday’ (1960) and ‘The Horrible Dr Hichcock’ (1962) are put under the spot light; whilst brief mentions of Steele’s talents and influence are declared by the likes of Tim Burton, Joe Dante and Roger Corman.

N for Nightmare – 10 Pages
Wes Craven’s cult hit movie ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ (1984), it’s numerous sequels and the TV show offshoot ‘Freddy’s Nightmares’ (1988 – 1990) are the subject matter of this chapter.  Insights from Wes Craven, his son Jonathan Craven and actor Robert Englund (who played the now legendary character of Freddy Krueger) provide the backbone for this mildly interesting overview of the ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ franchise.  Although it offers a number of nuggets of inside information on the creation and production of the movies, little more is offered up surrounding the writer/director or his personal opinions on the somewhat explosive popularity of the movies.

O for Open Vein – 12 Pages
Blood and more specifically the consumption of this emotive red life force is the subject of this next chapter.  Beginning with a brief overview of the life and horrific exploits of Countess Erzsebet Bathory (the infamous Blood Countess), the section soon moves on to the baring of this historical figure onto Bram Stoker and his classic literary masterpiece ‘Dracula’ (1897).  The text then jumps a good century to bring us up to date with snippets of the life and work of Poppy Z Brite including numerous (nauseatingly gothic) quotes from the author.  After a very extensive and completest list of Count Dracula in the movies (from 1921 – 1995) the section wraps up with a very brief overview of some true crime killers who took to consuming their victims blood.

P for Pain – 10 Pages
Special effects artist Tom Savini is the main topic of this next section.  From his early inspiration taken from the likes of Lon Chaney Sr., to his lengthy career in horror movies - more specially working alongside the zombie movie guru, George A. Romero.  Both ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ (1978) and ‘Day Of The Dead’ (1985) are loosely examined in relation to the creation of their special effects, as well as the birth, progression and future of prosthetic special effects as a whole.  An interesting and mildly insightful chapter on this largely underrated art.

Q for Quiet Men – 8 Pages
The actors Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre are the principal subject of this next chapter.  With film director Roger Corman reflecting back on his days working with the three gifted and highly revered actors, the chapter looks at how they injected their own personalities into the films, with stories if improvisation from the likes of Peter Lorre, and eventual collaboration between the very talented actors of the genre.  Not the most insightful of chapters, but instead a wistful look back at the careers of these three great men.

R for Rictus – 4 Pages
The eighteenth century sculptor Franz Xavier Messerschmidt is the subject of this next, incredibly short chapter.  With only around one page worth of actual text, Barker barely has enough space to squeeze in much in the way the artist’s life or works.  However, Messerschmidt’s troubling psychic illness (dementia, paranoia and hallucinations) are still briefly touched upon.  An illness that resulted in the artist creating peculiar busts of himself in order to ward off the evil demons that supposedly tormented him.  For those that weren’t already aware of Messerschmidt, this short section is certainly an intriguing one – perhaps sparking some interest to investigate the man and his work further.  However, the limitations of the chapter offer little else but a whetting of the appetite.

S for Sorceress – 8 Pages
American author Shirley Jackson, who was best known for her novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (1959) is the focus of this next chapter.  Here the reader is told of Jackson’s affiliation with the occult, claiming to be the only practicing amateur within New England at the time.  From recollections of her spiritual abilities detailed by her now fully grown up children, the chapter moves on to the impact of Jackson’s novel  ‘The Lottery’ (1949) and then the inspiration and direction used for the writing of ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (1959).  The chapter as a whole provides a good solid (but brief) oversight into this influential writer of the supernatural.

T for Torso – 6 Pages
Somewhat vaguely, the human torso (principally the genitals, body and mind), is the very general subject of this next chapter.  However, what the section in fact looks into, is the work of Jennifer Chambers Lynch (daughter of successful film director David Lynch) as well as David Cronenberg’s film work.  ‘Boxing Helena’ (1993) and ‘Dead Ringers’ (1988) make up the vast majority of the chapter, with details of the inspiration, storyline and reception.  Not the most involved and inspiring of chapters, but the true life inspiration behind Cronenberg’s ‘Dead Ringers’ (1988) is rather interesting.

U for Unborn – 8 Pages
Here we see Ira Levin’s classic novel ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1967) put under the spotlight, along with Roman Polanski’s 1968 film adaptation.  Once again we have the usual look into the inspiration behind the story, a brief plot synopsis and the final public reaction to the book and film release.  From here the chapter moves on to Larry Cohen’s similarly themed film ‘It’s Alive’ (1973), once again with the same brief overview and insight.

V for Vice Versa – 10 Pages
Clive Barker turns the spotlight on himself for this next chapter- examining the recurring themes of his work and the constants that connect the sequels to his films.  The principal idea of transformation and metamorphosis into something monstrous we are told is what lies at the heart of much of Barker’s work.  The themes within Barker’s short ‘The Madonna’ from ‘Books Of Blood: Volume 4’ (1985) are examined, as well as the likes of ‘Hellraiser’ (1987), ‘Hellraiser 2: Hellbound’ (1988) and ‘Nightbreed’ (1990).  Altogether, the section proves to be interesting, intriguing and pretty informative.

W for Window – 10 Pages
Gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe is the next subject to be loosely examined.  Here, the life of the great master of haunting despair and gothic atmosphere is briefly set down, with mentions of the depressing tragedies that befell him until his untimely death in 1849.  From here the chapter moves on to the photographic work of Simon Marsden and the career defining influence Poe’s work had on the photographer.  Short snippets of Poe’s work accompany the chapter, along with a list detailing selected works of the writer’s fiction.

X for Xploitation – 10 Pages
The glorious era of the fifties and sixties cinema is next on the table.  Here we are given a brief rundown of the more wacky b-movie titles that made it to the big screen as well as a number of the hare-brained gimmicks that cinemas used to get the audiences in.  From Ted V Mikels to Joe Dante to William Castle – the chapter packs in the more over-the-top directors of the colourful and utterly creative b-movie years.

Y for Year Zero – 10 Pages
The new millennium brought with it a whole new dimension and outlet for horror fiction.  Comic books and graphic novels took on an increasingly twisted side, cutting away at history and twisting it into a new manifestation that are fresh for the darker eyes of modern day horror fans.  And at the forefront of such boundary-pushing graphic novels were Savoy comics and the likes of Alan Moore, David Britton and John Coulthart.  Barker exposes these darker levels to comic fiction, with a brief rundown of the controversy that they caused resulting in the seizure of the comics by Manchester magistrates’ court.

Z for Zombie – 15 Pages
This final chapter starts out looking at the concept of recording mortality, with photo historian Dr Stanley B. Burns MD’s reasoning and thoughts on his collection of photographs of the dead.  Following on the chapter delves into the making of the legendary movie ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ (1968) and then on to the inspiration behind the original graphic novels of ‘The Crow’ (1989) and ultimately on to the 1994 film adaptation.  The chapter also includes a reasonably thorough two page list of zombie movies from 1932 all the way to 1994.

All in all, the book is a beautifully presented reference book, crammed with colour and black & white photographs, alongside facts, figures and lists that accompany the main text.  Each chapter is relatively light and brief, touching on a number of elements on each subject without getting too deep into the intricacies of the topics covered.

The behind-the-scenes style quotations and ‘in-the-making-of…’ stories are what really make the book a slightly more informative and purposeful guide.  The idea behind the reference book, and indeed the TV series that it accompanied, was never to offer up details on horror that are of incredible insight to hardcore horror aficionados.  Instead it covers the incredibly broad spectrum of the horror genre, which in itself, is likely to bring up at least some new aspect of the genre or interesting snippet of information for even the most well-read and goggle-eyed of horror fanatics.

And with this as a general brief, the book (and indeed the TV series) fulfils its criteria perfectly.  The sheer wealth of information shoe-horned into the broken down and rigorously segmented book is as wonderful as it is unexpected.  But it’s the format and pictorial imagery that accompanies the main body of the text that really makes it such a delightful reference book to read through.  The lay-out and design is instantly attention grabbing.  The snippets of information and well-researched lists form pretty good starting blocks for new fans of the genre.  And it’s a book that can be easily enjoyed by both long-time knowledgeable fans as well as those who are just beginning to get into the genre.

The book runs for a total of 251 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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